Laura Osnes (Photo: Nathan Johnson)
“I grew up with the Rodgers & Hammerstein set of movie musicals,” recalls Broadway star Laura Osnes of her early years binge-watching titles like Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, The King and I and Carousel. While some girls her age idolized Mariah Carey and Tori Amos, Osnes found a connection with Julie Andrews, Shirley Jones and other R&H leading ladies. Little did she know that she would eventually become one of them.
Osnes made her Broadway debut as Sandy in the 2007 revival of Grease after winning the reality television show You’re the One That I Want!. But Rodgers & Hammerstein wasn’t far behind when she stepped into the role of Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center’s critically acclaimed South Pacific revival, directed by Bartlett Sher.
“This cannon and their work have always been a huge inspiration for me,” says Osnes. “Rodgers & Hammerstein were so ahead of their time and wrote very complex leading ladies. Strong women, who maybe had an element of naivete but went on such a journey throughout each of their stories. They all have such arcs of growth and strength. Having gotten to play so many of those heroines, it’s reiterated in every production. They weren’t afraid to tackle controversial issues, dealing with domestic abuse, religion, racism and war.”
The recent Oklahoma! revival, stripped down and jarringly atmospheric, proves the power of the team’s writing.
“Their work proves to be timeless,” says Osnes. “The recent (Oklahoma!) revival was incredibly poignant and relevant. They were so ahead of their time. These women aren’t weak or one-dimensional. There is so much there, that’s what is so exciting about their work. There’s so much depth and so many places to go.”
The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization required casting approval before Osnes officially stepped took over the role in South Pacific. It was at this time that she met the president of the organization, Ted Chapin.
“Ted has been an ally of mine since then,” recalls Osnes. “He’s just a dear friend and so supportive.”
Osnes went on to perform a one-night-only concert of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall, followed by Pipe Dream, a lesser-known work based on several John Steinbeck’s novels, as part of City Center’s Encore! Series.
Osnes later starred in the gorgeously reimagined revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which was nominated for nine Tony Awards, including her nod for Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role In A Musical. Still, Osnes has her eye on other R&H roles, including Laurie in Oklahoma! and Anna in The King and I.
To reach new audiences, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization began to consider how this classic music and lyrics could migrate online with a fresh, contemporary take. Senior Vice President Dana Siegel contacted Osnes for a lunch meeting, and the pair began brainstorming about the series.
R&H Goes Pop! launched at BroadwayCon in January 2019 with Osnes as host, and has since released a series of videos with some of Broadway’s most notable talent including Jeremy Jordan (“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”), Jelani Alladin and Matt Doyle (“We Kiss in a Shadow”), Ashley Park (“Do-Re-Mi”) and more.
“When I heard Jeremy’s demo track for the first time, I remember almost crying,” recalls Osnes. “I was so emotionally moved by hearing a song that I knew so well done in a completely contemporary, relevant light, in a style that made Jeremy soar and could be on the radio tomorrow.”
The series has pivoted amid the COVID-19 pandemic to invite artists to perform live, often accompanying themselves acoustically. Natalie Weiss, who recently appeared in Emojiland, found inspiration in “Mister Snow” from Carousel and commissioned a friend to create a track that’s full of soul and R&B.
Osnes is also taking the time to share her experience and expertise through online masterclasses. Book a virtual voice lesson through Broadway Booker, or if you have a little one that wants to hear from a Broadway princess, sign up for a royal shout-out, virtual concert or “private princess coaching.”
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. His arts writing has appeared in Dramatics Magazine and on TDF Stages and ShowTickets.com. Matthew is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a past fellowship recipient from The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Critics Institute. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.